Deck the halls, now make it disappear

MAYBE IT’S JUST ME, but lately, I get as excited to undecorate after Christmas as I am to decorate right after Thanksgiving. Oh, there have been years where I could barely stand the thought of dragging the “big Santas” up from the storage room, but once I unbox them, I’m always happy I did. And this year, in my new place, they hold a place of prominence I didn’t have in my last house:

IMG_2933
My Santas, displayed atop the peninsula that holds the gas fireplace.

A few years ago, I was feeling grouchy in December, and came *thisclose* to just not digging out the Big Santas. Why get them out, I thought, when in three weeks I will have to spend another half-hour putting them away? So I told my kids, and they said, WHAT?? YOU HAVE TO GET THEM OUT!! So I did.

When I was a kid, my mom mandated that the Christmas tree come down on New Year’s Day. Ornaments repacked, gifts put away, all traces of the holiday gone. I remember dreading the chore. It meant the Christmas fun was over, and January’s bleakness had arrived.

Mom? I get it now.

This year’s tree is my first-ever artificial tree. It holds many of our favorite ornaments, collected over the years. It also features two new Christopher Radko ornaments that Seth got for me, since I made sure Curt got the three we had before, to hang on his own tree. I was moved to tears that Seth remembered the name and shopped to find a good deal, and selected two he thought I’d like – a Santa, and a church.

IMG_2934
See that red thing on the left? It’s a fancy Christmas tree storage bag. With wheels.

As much as I loved this tree, and as much as I’m dreading going down to the garage to get the storage boxes and lugging them up all 30 steps, then back down again, I’m ready for Christmas to be over. It was a really nice holiday this year, but it punctuated the end of a challenging year – not personally, but for the country. The “WTF IS HAPPENING” vibe persists, at least where I live, and the feeling of watching a slow-motion train wreck and being powerless to stop it wears on even the hardiest soul. I am looking forward to a new year, even if the fresh start is symbolic.

I have always differentiated between Christmas decorations and winter ones. As such, I think I’ll leave this display up for a while:

IMG_2935
Silver and red: They aren’t just for Christmas.

And yes, that *is* an as-yet-unpacked moving box that has has there since March, thanks for noticing! But after the tree is stowed away, I’m unpacking that box and placing its contents on that cart to the right. For now, anyway. Until I think of a better idea.

As I write this, there are guys outside with leaf blowers, removing the dusting of snow that fell overnight from the sidewalks out front. I am grateful to be inside, next to my warm gas fireplace, which now works (thanks, Steve!), instead of blowing snow off of my driveway and front walk, which is what I’d have been doing a year ago. The joys of homeownership were many, but so were the annoyances, and snow removal was one of them. In this season of my life, I am grateful for what I had before and even more grateful for what I have today. I have a sense that I am exactly where I need to be at this moment.

Come at me, 2018. I’m ready for you.

‘Tis the season

‘TIS THE SEASON for primo parking at Metro lots on Fridays. Lots of folks work alternative schedules that are arranged to keep them from commuting on Friday (lucky dogs), but this time of year, even more people are off work, burning vacation days they might otherwise forfeit as the year rolls over. I have been a full-time working person with benefits for over 27 years and have never once been in a position where I had more vacation days to use than I knew what to do with. What is that like? I hope one day to know.

‘TIS THE SEASON for snow in the weather forecast. This means two things: One, I miss my Jeep. The Jetta is fun to drive, but I can’t lie, I miss 4WD. And Two, now begins the frantic search for mittens and gloves (pairs, that match), scarves, hats, and boots. Did I not put them all in the designated basket when winter ended? I was sure I did. Oh, and I need to find the ice scraper for the car, too. Ho ho ho.

‘TIS THE SEASON for college kids to be taking finals! I remember the feeling. Seth has all three of his next Monday; Ross has his spread out over the week next week. Related: it’s also time to return the textbook rentals. And to register for next semester.

‘TIS THE SEASON for my annual declaration, HOMEMADE GIFTS FOR EVERYONE!, which is followed shortly thereafter by my other annual declaration, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING. Here’s hoping they feel the love in each carefully mail-ordered gift that will be hastily stuffed into a gift bag on December 24.

‘TIS THE SEASON for hour-long hold times and newly-hired seasonal temps receiving a “baptism by fire” during my “where is the rest of my refund?” call, and a still-incorrect refund from Macy’s. It was obvious the guy was a rookie, which is fine, and I had time to hold, but I would also have expected his team lead, whom he kept telling me he was “partnering with”, to correct my refund. I returned 4 things and, so far, have been refunded for two of them. Alas.

‘TIS THE SEASON to deck the halls. This year, I’m decking mine with new traditions, as it’s my first Christmas in my new place. I got a new fake tree, and I like it. We hung those pine-scented sticks on it so the house smells like fake evergreen. Last night, the boys and I hung old ornaments on it. That was mostly OK, but frankly, it kind of made me melancholy. But, it felt like the right thing to do. I put candles in my windows, just like before, but am happy I don’t have to drape greenery on my split rail fences (one year I went full Martha Stewart and fashioned garlands and wreaths from real greens!) and have the annual disagreement over whether the lights on the house should be all white (my preference) or multi-colored (the kids’ preference).

‘TIS THE SEASON for busy-ness, but also for good cheer and hugs and smiles and for being thankful and grateful for so many things.

 

The Neighborhood 

It’s 5:30 Friday evening. I got home a little early, changed clothes, and poured myself a glass of wine. The temperature outside has been in the 60s the past couple of days, so I turned off the air-conditioner and opened some windows.

I live in the top two floors of a row of two-over-two townhomes. All the units have garages which back to central parking, around a treed, grassy island.

From my open dining room window, I hear little kids ramming around with what sound like plastic wheeled toys. (Parents, you know that sound!) I hear a mom. From this distance, she sounds like the muffled mumbles of any adult in the classic Charlie brown cartoons. The children are shrieking with glee, yelling rules at each other for whatever game they are making up in the moment. As all good suburban cul-de-sac kids do, they occasionally bellow the warning, CAAAAARRRRRR!

These sounds transport me back almost 20 years, when I had two small kids. When the boys were very little, we lived in a townhouse community, smaller, but not unlike the one I’m living in now. Instead of out back, the parking and island were in the center, viewable from the fronts of the houses. If enough adults stood guard, the kids could ride their large plastic wheeled vehicles around the island.

It was in this way that we met most of our neighbors in the community where we first lived, and again when we moved to a more expansive suburb. Now, some evenings when I drive my car into the parking area, I see orange cones set up, and those signs that say “children at play”, and adults standing around, sharing a beverage, while they keep one eye on the posse of children. I remember the drill: one parent would take a turn, giving the other one a spell, and promise to run the children, hard, until they were tired. This was in an effort to ensure an early (or at least timely), drama-free bedtime. Our measure of success was the low bar of “safe and happy” on those nights and anything beyond that, with regard to the kids, was gravy.

I mostly feel happy that the days of large plastic wheel toys and shrieking children are behind me, but I would be lying if I didn’t add that the sounds I’m hearing now make me the tiniest bit wistful. My little boys were just so cute. And fun! Exhausting too. But remarkable. They were (and are still) a source of pride and joy.

There is a sense of community that parents of similarly aged children develop. I don’t have that connection with any of my current neighbors. Now, I am (probably?) that scary old lady who smiles a little too broadly, and is a little too forthcoming with the unsolicited advice.

When we were in the thick of it, I could barely imagine a day when I wouldn’t find Hot Wheels cars and LEGO blocks and empty chip bags and Capri Sun pouches all over my house. But now here I am, with a 7th grader who needs no toys, rides a “big boy” bike to school, and even puts most of his trash into the garbage cans in the house. His older brothers spend more time now at their dad’s house than at mine, but I see them regularly, and we have completely adult conversations. And occasionally drink a beer together! (What?!)

I remember as my kids were growing up, thinking how each stage is the best, as you get to it. All the stages are special for unique reasons, but the one I was in at the moment always seemed the best to me. Little kids, like the ones I hear shrieking right now, can be exhausting, but their smiles and joy are completely genuine. My favorite age range is still from 7 to 11, but I’m still really enjoying Eli even as an adolescent in middle school. (But I will readily accept your prayers for us both.)

Yes, my life has changed significantly over the past two decades, and I’ve been through many stages. But in this moment, I can say with certainty, as I look ahead to all that awaits, that this is, without a doubt, the best stage yet.